‘Non-Japanese only’ Okinawa eatery turns tables

Jon Mitchell explores why one restaurateur has effectively banned Japanese patrons

Okinawa Prefecture is home to three-quarters of America’s military bases in Japan. The vast majority of these, including Kadena Air Base, Torii Station and the contentious Marine Corps installation at Futenma, are located in the central part of the main island.

Despite overwhelming Okinawan opposition to the presence of the United States military, open animosity towards American servicemen is remarkably rare here. One of the few places where it is experienced, though, is in central Okinawa’s entertainment districts. Japanese-owned clubs and bars regularly turn away American customers, and some of them display English signs stating “members only” and “private club” in order to exclude unwanted foreign patrons. With Japan’s laws on racial discrimination tending towards the ambiguous, transforming a business into a private club has become a common way to circumvent any potential complaints to the Bureau of Human Rights.

Under these circumstances, the notices on the door of Sushi Zen, a small restaurant located at the edge of Chatan Town’s fishing port, are not unusual: “This store has a members-only policy. Entry is restricted to members.” However, what is different is the fact that they’re written in Japanese, and designed to keep away Japanese customers. Furthermore, Sushi Zen’s owner is not a xenophobic foreign expatriate, but a soft-spoken Japanese man named Yukio Okuhama…